Toyota Experiments With Airless Tires To Lighten EVs

Electric vehicles could be getting a significant boost in range with the invention of the airless tires. Toyota and Sumitomo Rubber have been working together to slim down tires by installing motors in them instead of filling them with air.


May 22 2019, Updated 10:25 a.m. ET

Without a doubt, one of the biggest drawbacks when it comes to electric vehicles (EVs) is that even when fully charged, they can still have a relatively limited range. Of course, that's steadily improved in recent years; new vehicles have seen distances at over 300 miles this year thanks to lithium-ion batteries with higher capacity, for example. We could see that number jump drastically with Toyota looking into airless tires to decrease the weight of their EVs.

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Automobile manufacturers are currently tinkering with cars to give them longer range. While battery technology will continue to improve and increase the range that way, adding features such as solar panels and making the car lighter overall can also give cars better efficiency with the battery that's already installed. For example, while solar-powered cars aren’t a realization yet, that technology could be used to run the features of a vehicle, which decreases battery usage.

Toyota’s looking into airless tires for their newest concept car that was unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in October. Called the “Fine-Comfort Ride,” this fuel cell vehicle is also designed to improve aerodynamic performance with a diamond-shaped cabin.

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Each wheel would have its own unique motor that would power the vehicle. In comparison to air-filled tires, these new wheels could be 11 pounds less, or just 70 percent, of the weight. Sumitomo Rubber Industries has been working with Toyota on the new product, and they’ve been testing their prototype on smaller vehicles, such as golf carts and minicars.

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“The Fine-Comfort Ride is a concept, for now,” Takao Sato, chief engineer of Toyota’s new concept car, said at the Tokyo Motor Show. “But we are developing technologies for the future and we are active in various developments. Launch timing is not decided but 2025-2030 is the target date for making it complete.”

Wako Iwamura, who’s the head of the new product, has been working on the product for the last five years. He’s hoping that a commercial version of the airless tire comes out by the end of 2020. To increase range even further, Iwamura is also working on limiting friction that takes place when the wheels are turning.

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Based on initial details, the vehicle looks to be the length between a Prius and a Mirai. There will be six seats in the vehicle, with the first two rows being able to fully rotate. This would provide easier conversations and a better way to get in and out of the vehicle. The backseat is more traditional, and it also gives the ability for middle-seat passengers to fully recline if no one is sitting in the back.

Toyota boasts that the vehicle will have no carbon dioxide emissions or any discharging “substances of concern.” Should the airless wheels be a significant hit, it would be hard to see the idea not reach other models from the manufacturer.

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